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Public Policy Report for 24 November 2009

President Announces New Science Education Initiative

At a White House event on 23 November 2009, President Obama announced a new national science education initiative. On hand for the launch of Educate to Innovate was AIBS director of pubic policy, Dr. Robert Gropp.

“The national campaign is an effort to help reach the administration’s goal of moving American students from the middle of the pack to the front in science and math achievement over the next decade,” according to White House documents. At the event, the President announced five public-private partnerships that have committed to helping unleash the power of media, interactive games, hands-on learning, and community volunteers to reach millions of students. The goal is to inspire them to become the next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors and innovators.

The President also issued a call for the private sector, which includes scientific associations, to work with the nation’s community colleges to improve science education and ensure that students have the skills required for the 21st century workforce.

According to the President, Educate to Innovate is a response to his call to action issued during an April 2009 speech to the National Academy of Sciences.

Prior to the White House event, AIBS sent the President a letter describing some of the community-based education initiatives AIBS has helped to cultivate in recent years through programs such as COPUS and the Year of Science 2009. To read this letter, visit For information about AIBS education programs, visit To learn more about the COPUS project, please go to

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AIBS to Host Webinar -- "Alternative Science Careers: Science Policy"

Are you a student or early-career professional interested in an alternative science career? Have you ever thought that a career in science policy or public affairs might be right for you? If so, an upcoming webinar hosted by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) could help you consider your options.

A growing number of individuals are interested in employment that allows them to apply their scientific skills and training to the resolution of societal problems. Whether an individual’s interests are in education, health, environment, or the nation’s investment in scientific research, a public policy career is one way that scientists can convert their education into action.

This program is intended to help individuals better understand the pros and cons of a career in science policy, and the knowledge, skills and experiences that are required to be successful in science policy and public affairs.

This program will: * Provide information about employment options in science policy/public affairs; * Provide tips to help interested students and early career professionals develop the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the policy/public affairs sector; and, * Help individuals evaluate whether this career path is right for them.

See for information and registration.

Registration is required.

Event Date: Monday, December 21, 2009 2:00 - 3:30 PM, Eastern Standard Time

Cost: * $19.95, Webinar only * $38.95, Webinar, 1 copy of the AIBS publication Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media (price includes shipping and handling) * $44.90, Webinar, 1 copy of Communicating Science and 1 copy of the AIBS Congressional Directory (price includes shipping and handling) * $44.90, Webinar, 1 copy of the book Nontraditional Careers

Exclusive AIBS career and communication packet * $69.40, Webinar, 1 copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media, 1 copy of the AIBS Congressional Directory, and 1 copy of the book Nontraditional Careers in Science


Keynote: “So, you want to work in science policy?” Dr. Robert Gropp, Director of Public Policy, American Institute of Biological Sciences


Ms. Julie Palakovich Carr, Public Policy Associate, American Institute of Biological Sciences Dr. Holly Menninger, Coordinator, New York Invasive Species Research Institute Dr. Caroline Ridley, S&T Policy Fellow, United States Environmental Protection Agency

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NPS Says Scientists Must Share

The National Park Service (NPS) plans to require researchers using specimens collected from national parks to enter into a benefits-sharing agreement with NPS if their research produces discoveries or inventions with some valuable commercial application. Discoveries would not be permitted to be used for commercial applications without the benefits-sharing agreement. Under the new rules, researchers with commercially successful discoveries would provide monetary or non-monetary compensation to the NPS on an annual basis, subject to the terms of their benefit-sharing agreement.

The decision was issued in a final Environmental Impact Statement published in the Federal Register ( The decision is an outgrowth of several commercial applications of scientific discoveries made in national parks, the most notable being the invention of PCR from the study of a microorganism discovered in Yellowstone National Park.

The NPS will implement the requirement for a benefits-sharing agreement no sooner than 30 days from 23 November 2009. This requirement will not affect current requirements or the application process for obtaining a permit to conduct research in a national park, as the benefits-sharing agreement would be initiated after permitted research was conducted.

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International Study: Financial Benefits in Conservation

Investing in conservation can bring huge financial returns, according to a new report from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study. The TEEB study, backed by the United Nations, grew from a 2007 meeting of the environment ministers of the G8 nations and five major newly developing countries. The study’s mission was to “analyze the global economic benefit of biological diversity, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the failure to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation.” Based on the principles of ecological economics, TEEB is the first study to evaluate ecosystem services—which are the services that the natural world provides society for free, such as cleaning the air, buffering against storms, or providing materials for growth.

The TEEB study will issue five reports, each targeted to specific categories of decision-makers. On 13 November 2009, the first TEEBS report for policymakers was released. This report focused on the value of halting deforestation, protecting coral reefs, and restoring global fisheries. It also explored the link between ecosystem degradation and rural poverty. The results show that investing in ecosystem protection can be very cost-effective. The natural environment provides a wide variety of services across many economic sectors. In many cases, ecosystem services are cheaper than technological solutions.

The report outlines key challenges confronting policy makers. The report is available at

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Attention Graduate Students: AIBS Accepting 2010 EPPLA Applications

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to announce that applications for the 2010 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA) are now being accepted. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. EPPLA recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Application requirements and details are at

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House Passes Measure to Prevent Aquatic Invaders

The House of Representatives passed HR 3618 on 17 November 2009 that would require ships operating in U.S. waters that engage in international voyages to use an anti-fouling system on their hulls to control or prevent the attachment of unwanted organisms. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Oberstar (D-MN), would also ban the use of anti-fouling paints that are toxic to marine life. Although HR 3618 is largely aimed at reducing water pollution from chemicals leaching from anti-fouling paint on ships, the bill could help to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species that attach to the hulls of ships.

Oberstar’s bill does not address the transmission of organisms through ballast water. Ballast water, which is carried to improve ship stability, is estimated to transport 3,000 to 10,000 different species, many of which are invasive. The House passed legislation (HR 2830) in 2008 that would have set a national standard of zero living organisms in ballast water discharged in U.S. waters. That measure, also sponsored by Rep. Oberstar, died in the Senate, where concerns over preemption of the right of states to control discharges into their ports and waterways outweighed concerns about aquatic invasive species. Neither chamber has yet acted on the issue this session of Congress.

To learn more about the policy debate over aquatic invasive species read “Turning the Tide on Invaders” in the November 20009 issue of BioScience. The article is currently available for free at

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Birds Collected by Darwin to be Used to Restore Extinct Population

An international group of researchers have extracted DNA from two mockingbirds collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the HMS Beagle in the hopes of reintroducing an extinct sub-population to the Galapagos Islands. A study published by the Royal Society journal Biology Letters documents the scientists’ efforts to determine genetic differences among three sub-populations of the Galapagos mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus). With this information, the Charles Darwin Foundation, a research-based conservation organization, hopes to reintroduce the Floreana sub-population of mockingbirds using birds from nearby islands. The Floreana mockingbird went extinct 50 years after Darwin’s voyage, largely due to human impacts, however two sub-populations of the species still exist on other islands in the Galapagos.

The study highlights the modern day value of natural history collections, as the bird specimens used are part of the collection of the Natural History Museum of London. “Though Darwin knew nothing of DNA, the specimens he and [captain Robert] Fitzroy collected have, after 170 years of safe-keeping in collections, yielded genetic clues to suggest a path for conservation of this critically endangered and historically important species,” said Dr. Karen James, an author of the study.

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Biosecurity Draws Attention from Congress, Scientists

Security at biological research facilities that work with biological select agents and toxins could be strengthened under a bill passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on 4 November 2009 (S 1649). The legislation would create a tiered security plan, with higher security measures for facilities conducting research on biological agents and toxins with a significant potential to be used effectively in a biological attack. Such a system was recommended in a report released by the National Academy of Sciences in September, which found fault with current “one-size-fits all” security measures for restricted agents. That report also recommended reforming the personnel screening process at these facilities and implementing monitoring and management programs to catch and deter potentially dangerous behavior by staff.

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Short Takes

  • Spending by private industry on research and development (R&D) is booming in the developing world. In 2008, corporate R&D spending increased by 40 percent in China and 27 percent in India. Funding in Europe and the U.S. also grew last year, although at much smaller rates (8.1 and 5.7 percent, respectively).

  • In a poll recently conducted by Research!America regarding the economy and health reform, 92% of Americans believe that medical research will decrease overall health care costs while improving quality. Some feel America cannot afford to invest in science currently, but 93% think the U.S should lead in scientific discoveries, with 56% saying the U.S should spend more money to be globally competitive and 68% even willing to pay increased taxes to fund research.

  • A coalition of university organizations has launched a new website called This site is intended to tout the impact of stimulus-funded university research activities across the country. It is designed to allow visitors a state-by-state and agency-by-agency summary of the dollar amounts and numbers of funded grants, as well as a summary of outcomes, where applicable.

  • Officials representing the United States, Canada, and Mexico have signed the first continent-wide agreement on protecting wilderness. Signed on 7 November 2009, the memorandum of understanding will facilitate collaboration among federal land managers in the three countries to protect and restore wilderness areas in North America.

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In the AIBS Webstore


Evolution, climate change, stem cell research — Scientists are frequently called upon to provide expert information on hot button issues that pervade the daily news headlines, yet most find themselves woefully unprepared for the bright lights of the television studio or leading questions from a newspaper journalist. A new publication from AIBS, “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” by Holly Menninger and Robert Gropp in the Public Policy Office, will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Recognizing that many scientists are reluctant to engage in media outreach, “Communicating Science” outlines compelling reasons for scientists to interact with the media and describes key differences between journalism and science that may not be apparent to practicing scientists. Step-by-step, Menninger and Gropp walk scientists through the entire interview process - from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one’s best on-air or on-camera.

The information and advice in “Communicating Science” is presented in eight easy-to-read chapters that provide vital information for scientists new to media outreach, as well as a quick refresher for seasoned experts - an ideal text for a graduate course on science communication or a professional development course for students and faculty. The primer’s authors speak from their own experiences as PhD scientists in the biological sciences with years of experience in media outreach.

The concise, user-friendly volume has several unique features that set it apart from other media guides for scientists. “Communicating Science” includes first-person interviews with nearly a dozen scientists who have successfully navigated print, radio, and television interviews. The scientists-including the “Island Snake Lady,” Kristin Stanford, recently featured on the Discovery Channel show, “Dirty Jobs” - share advice and experiences on a number of topics, including safely speaking on behalf of an organization, avoiding trouble when discussing socially or politically controversial topics, and reflections on first interviews.

“Communicating Science” also provides worksheets to assist readers with interview preparation: building a message framework with talking points and transition phrases, developing analogies, and using illustrative props or images. It includes pages for readers to organize contact information of journalists with whom they have worked directly and those who have reported on stories related to their own research to keep as potential contacts for future story pitches. “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available now in the AIBS Webstore.

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New in BioScience - "Turning the Tide on Aquatic Invaders"

In the November 2009 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr reports on efforts by federal agencies and Congress to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species spread by ballast water carried in ships. An excerpt from the article follows, but the complete article (along with prior Washington Watch columns) may be viewed for free at

Ports in the United States are among the busiest in the world—ships made more than 60,000 port calls here in 2008. Along with the 2.3 billion metric tons of goods moved through these ports were untold numbers of aquatic hitchhikers, transported in ballast water and residual sediment in ballast tanks. Ballast water, loaded aboard to improve ship stability during a voyage, transports as many as 3000 to 10,000 different species, including invasive species such as zebra mussels, green crabs, algae, and plankton, as well as disease-causing bacteria and viruses. When ships reach their destinations and release this ballast water, they also release nonnative species in ports around the world. Beyond the ecological impacts of these aquatic invaders are the costs they inflict on the economy: Every year these hitchhikers are responsible for the loss of billions of dollars. Zebra mussels alone cause $1 billion in damages each year in the United States. Although the scientific community, environmentalists, policymakers, port managers, and shippers agree that the discharge of ballast water should be regulated, a consensus about which agency should be granted regulatory authority has proven elusive. To continue reading this article for free, visit

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today!

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has launched the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The online resource allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. The AIBS Legislative Action Center is located at

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, and the Botanical Society of America.

Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, biodiversity conservation, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues.

This exciting new advocacy tool allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become a policy advocate today. Simply go to to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

For additional information about the AIBS Legislative Action Center, please visit To further help AIBS advance biology and science education, consider joining AIBS. To learn about other membership benefits and to join AIBS online, please visit

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